Wayne's flying high after USW experience

Wayne Kwenda

A former University of South Wales student, who arrived in the UK from Zimbabwe at the age of 16 with no family or job, has graduated with a first-class honours degree in Aircraft Maintenance Engineering. He is working for General Electric Aviation Wales, one of the world’s top engineering firms.

Wayne Kwenda, 24, from Lewisham in London but now living in Abercarn, Caerphilly, graduated in July and is now a Product Support Engineering (Co-op) for General Electric.

“My job involves working as part of a customer-focused global team. I work closely with the Life Cycle Engineering team to understand the field performance of our hardware or parts through part condition analysis,” HE SAID.

“I also work closely with other engineering teams to respond to customer technical queries, with a focus on quality, safety, Time on Wing and cost.

“At General Electric we are global business we operate in more than 170 countries. I regularly work with colleagues from the USA, where GE is based, Turkey, Poland, India, China and Mexico and so on.

“I work at the GE Aviation Wales site. We overhaul and repair the GE90, GP7000, CFM 56 aircraft engines for over 90 global customers. One of my core responsibilities is to inspect document and report part conditions on incoming engines.

“This data is used by global engineering and product support engineering teams to help understand hardware conditions so that we can better anticipate and prevent in-service hardware failures.

“I thoroughly enjoy my role and thrive on my hands-on approach”   

But it’s been a long and, at times, quite scary road. Soon after arriving to the UK, Wayne slept rough in London for some time.

“I came to the UK as a minor and was placed in care,” he said.

“I was placed in supported semi-independent living where I shared the house with another young person under Lewisham Looked After Children.”

Wayne also struggled with some of the simple things many of us take for granted.

“I remember one time I was sitting by a bus stop and the one thing I struggled with was ‘how the hell do I get on and pay on a bus?’,” he said.

“It was hard to understand how to use an Oyster Card. I know it sounds obvious that people get on buses, but I would sit and watch them. They didn’t seem to pay the driver and there wasn’t a conductor. I didn’t figure out why until much later.”

However, with some support and encouragement, Wayne enrolled at a London college studying aerospace engineering, then aircraft maintenance engineering at a London university. But he dropped out after two years:

“I was young, I liked to go out and have a good time and in many ways those times took me off my goal. It was the one time after so many years that I really started to make good strong friends and develop relationships after moving to the UK,” he said.

“I took a year out and worked as a support worker looking after adults with learning difficulties. It was a very rewarding job but it wasn’t my career choice.”

After a year Wayne reapplied and was recommended the University of South Wales (USW) by his college lecturers in London.

“I liked USW. It was a good fit. Their engagement was very good and they had good links with industry leaders such as British Airways and GE Aviation,” he said.

“Two of my former lecturers worked as aircraft engineers at GE Aviation. One of whom helped me to get a work experience placement which eventually led to me getting a job there.

“Our lecturing team also included former British Airways engineers and engineers from the RAF.

“When I applied, with the help of my course leader, six lecturers gave up their time to give me mock job interviews in panels of three. Then they would give me feedback, looking at what I said and the sort of questions I could expect in preparation for job interviews.

“As a Care leaver, I received support through my Local authority and the USW. The university has dedicated support staff that occasionally checked in with me to see how I was progressing, the amount of contact was up to me.

“USW also provided some financial support through the care leaver’s bursary. The best part however is that the uni provides an informal forum to meet other young people from a similar background, this is particularly helpful when you are still new. Mentors can help you find your way around.

“When I started at GE I found out that the course I’d done was very aligned with the job I was doing, and there was a lot of things which were familiar to me, so it really gave me a good grounding for starting work.”

Studying at USW has also meant Wayne has fulfilled a dream he has had since he was five years old.

“My dad was an engineer and I always wanted to be like him but I also wanted to go above and beyond his achievements. He is a skilled electrical engineer and always let me play with his tools, fixing the house iron, kettle, toaster or even the cooker,” he said.

“I think the drive comes from him.”

Now, Wayne is on his way to building a career around that dream, and he has this advice for anyone who thinks they can’t do the same.

“You’ve got to surround yourself with the right people. You’ve got to surround yourself with the right inspiration. But it won’t fall into your lap, you’ve got to go out and find it. It’s not always the simplest of things and the younger me didn’t always make the same choices I have made since,” he said.

“It’s having self-measure and knowing your limits and your goals but finding your balance between achievements and fun. It’s always difficult, but if you know what you want to achieve, I always say, do one small simple thing towards achieving your goal every day.”

“However above all, I am certain that it is my passion for engineering, and aviation that has steered me. If you are passionate about something, devote yourself to achieving and realising your passion. You have to work hard, believe in yourself and use every obstacle as an opportunity to learn and develop.”

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